Justice for asbestos victims as Supreme Court rules against ‘callous’ insurers
I am writing to advise you of a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court which will effect many of the 2,500 people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
The Supreme Court upheld an appeal brought by Unite the Union and rejected arguments by insurance companies which would have denied compensation to victims of the terminal disease mesothelioma.
Judges in the country’s highest court agreed that the insurers of an employer at the time of the exposure to asbestos should pay compensation.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court after insurance companies were partly successful in an earlier appeal to the Court of Appeal. The companies argued that in some cases the employers’ liability insurance is ‘triggered’ not by the exposure to asbestos but by the development of the disease which is always decades later when there is no insurance in place to respond to the claim.
In his judgment, Lord Clarke concluded that: “The whole purpose of these policies was to insure employers against liability to their employees. That purpose would be frustrated if the insurers’ submissions on this point were accepted.”
Lord Phillips added that diseases are contracted when the process that leads to them is initiated as a result of wrongful exposure to the noxious substance that causes the disease.
The judgment went on to emphasise that these principles apply not only to mesothelioma but also to other industrial diseases.
It lays to rest at last the uncertainty for many mesothelioma sufferers and their families who were caught up in one of the most venal attacks by insurers to avoid liability. It also stands testament generally to the importance of trade union legal services. Just the sort of test case that the Jackson proposals will fundamentally undermine our ability to fight.
Had the insurers succeeded countless victims of asbestos related diseases and their widows and families would have been left with no compensation simply because their former employers had gone out of business leaving an insurance policy which used a particular form of words. Recovery of compensation for victims, widows and dependants would turn on the lottery of who employed the victim and what insurer provided their cover.
The position the insurers took in this case is similar to the scandalous position being taken by the former British Rail in Jarvis cases. In those cases they’re trying to turn TUPE and other legislation designed to protect workers on its head and use it against RMT members and other former BR personnel to deny compensation to them, their widows and families.
This is a landmark ruling which will affect thousands of victims of asbestos. It is a disgrace that insurance companies went to such lengths to shirk their responsibilities. For callous insurers this means the responsibility holiday is over.
If anyone is interested in reading the Judgement when it is available please contact our Legal Officer Karen Mitchell.